The Daunting Task of Achieving a Lasting Peace in Muslim Mindanao: Right to Self-Determination and the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law)

    The popular sentiments by separatist actors, generally speaking, perceived or real could be attributed to poverty, politics of exclusion, injustice, and discrimination. The repercussions brought about by separatism on the other hand, in general, include long protracted internal conflicts/civil-wars, loss of lives, displacement of people, destruction of properties, and impoverishment among others. And all these require some kind of political settlement if “PEACE” as a commodity is to take roots in these conflict zones.

    “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

    -Martin Luther King, Jr.-

    “Equality and self-determination should never be divided in the name of religious and ideological fervor.”

    -Rita Dove-

    Southeast as a region is so far known to have confronted and are still haunted by the issue of “SEPARATISM”. For instance, you have the case of Aceh of Indonesia, the case of the major ethnic groups of Myanmar (i.e. Karens, Shans, Mons, Karennis, and others) clamoring for self-determination and independence, and the case of the Moros in the Southern part of the Philippines fighting for self-rule and political autonomy. These are just few of the separatist movements roving in the region that by and large have so far produced similar consequences and to some extent had similar sentiments. The popular sentiments by separatist actors, generally speaking, perceived or real could be attributed to poverty, politics of exclusion, injustice, and discrimination. The repercussions brought about by separatism on the other hand, in general, include long protracted internal conflicts/civil-wars, loss of lives, displacement of people, destruction of properties, and impoverishment among others. And all these require some kind of political settlement if “PEACE” as a commodity is to take roots in these conflict zones.

    Written by Prof. Anna Malindog
    Posted online by Robyn Allas in Features, Global Lens at 13:20

    In the context of the Philippines, the conflict in Muslim Mindanao can be traced back to the time of the Spanish colonization. It had a long history born during the Moro-Spanish wars in 1578. However it was during the 70s that the conflict took the character and appearance as the struggle of the Moro people for “Self-Identity” and “Right to Self-Determination”. In the advent of such struggle, came the emergency of the Bangsamoro liberation groups, such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). These insurgent groups militarily fought, contested, pursued, and negotiated with the Philippine government to attain “self-rule” and so-called “genuine political autonomy”. They profess that the Bangsamoro of Mindanao since time immemorial is a sovereign nation. It has been the utmost and esteemed credence of the MNLF and MILF to stick with the historical narrative that the Bangsamoro people were never colonized and never been part of the Philippine state since the time of the Spanish colonial rule until the time of the Americans. They strongly assert that the annexation of Mindanao as part of the Philippine state during the de-colonization period was done unlawfully without the consent of the Bangsamoro people who carried on their own form of government, with a well-defined territory, under a sultanate/”datuship” system of governance. This accordingly was an injustice to the Moro identity and political sovereignty. And it is in this accord that the MNLF and MILF pursued their aspiration of political settlement with the Philippine government towards self-determination and political autonomy.

    This aspiration of the Bangsamoro people towards self-determination and self–identity so far did not land on deaf ears. The Philippine government to some extent did something to rectify and deal with the injustices suffered by the Moros of Mindanao given its limitations and the intricacies of the issue. The Philippine government and the Filipino people as whole, I do believe, have long recognized that the plight of the Moros deserved attention and resolution. For instance, in 1987, under President Corazon Aquino, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a decentralized political authority was created to quench the desire of the Bangasamoro people for political autonomy and self-rule. Then came the second peace process and proposed political settlement with the MILF, – a breakaway faction of MNLF, which is supposedly will be concluded via the enactment into law of the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), – a polemic piece of legislation due to its constitutional maladies, and exclusive process of peace-making of not involving/consulting certain important players like the indigenous peoples of Muslim Mindanao, and some long standing sultanates and datuships of the region. The BBL is now under the scrutiny of the Senate, and of the Filipino public.

    In the case of ARMM, after 10 years of its existence and even until now, it is plagued with so many problems. Many would consider ARMM a failure. Why? For one, the GRP-MNLF peace negotiation was not an inclusive process. It failed to include some indigenous groups, Christian settlers, and politicians, and even some of the traditional Muslim clans in the peace process. Indeed, these groups felt threatened by the said process and as a result were less supportive of ARMM and some of them opposed ARMM. Then again, it seems that history is repeating itself once again. Recent reports and senate hearings unearthed similar findings that the GRP-MILF peace process and the crafting of the BBL were not at all inclusive, and many of the stakeholders like the indigenous groups of Bangsamoro, even some of the important sultanates in Mindanao, Christian settlers, and the like, were not included and consulted in the said GRP-MILF peace process. It seems that the framers of BBL and those involved in the GRP-MILF peace process did not at all learn from the experience of the past. In this regard, it is quite sad to note that the GRP-MILF peace process and the BBL may suffer the same fate with that of the GRP-MNLF peace process and ARMM. This is quite a despondent story to mull over.

    Indeed, many will corroborate that ARMM as a political project is a failure, even its own constituencies will not deny this. Why? This is precisely because it did not deliver the very aspiration of its creation. It failed to deliver to the Bangsamoro people economic prosperity, development, and most of all lasting peace. This is not because the central/national government did not do anything to strengthen or provide all the needed support to ARMM, because it did, though not in absolute terms given the limitations of the national government. Under Nur Misuari’s governorship and I guess even until today, ARMM is laden and encumbered by copious cases of graft and corruption and mismanagement by its very leadership. I guess everyone in ARMM and the whole country know this. Furthermore, ARMM was not even able to handle and pacify the various militant groups dispersed in its territory, which some of them were renegade factions of MNLF. Ironically, it was not able to a greater extent thwart the persistence of “rido” (clan wars), which in most cases, some of the clans involved in “rido” are members of MNLF, the proponent of ARMM. As a consequence, these failures of ARMM opened up new patterns of exclusion, and acclimatized the motivations for some militant groups like the MILF to pursue rebellion related violence while espousing the very same aspirations that MNLF fought for before the creation of ARMM, and before the signing of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the Philippine government and the MNLF. On this note, the question I want to ask is how sure are we that, if the BBL is implemented it will not suffer the same fate with that of ARMM, given that we already have the case of the Mamasapano Tragedy and the presence of breakaway factions of MILF like the BFF (Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters) and the like. This is I guess a question that has been playing in the minds of the public, that is quite alarming, and that needs answer and reassurance, but until now, the framers, proponents, and even supporters of the BBL hardly could address.

    Moreover, the timeworn rhetoric of the MILF and MNLF fastened from the historical plot of injustice and discrimination against the Bangsamoro people is not anymore authentic in many respects. This is not to say that there are no more injustices and discrimination against the Moros of Mindanao because that it not I what I meant here. The underdevelopment of Muslim Mindanao could not also anymore be solely attributed to the colonial and post-colonial orations of land –grabbing, and economic exclusion against the Bangsamoro people, because this is not anymore the case.

    As time passes and as the world changes, in the same manner, the bases of unrests and the sparks of violence and conflict in Muslim-Mindanao, to a considerable degree, have already changed. Again, these changes are not said to be in absolute terms, nonetheless these changes happened. This is a reality that everyone especially the Moros, more specifically members of MILF, MNLF, and other Moro militant groups must come to terms with and must accept. The causes behind the volatile condition of the region and the murky plight of the Moros have already changed and shifted with the shift in the economic and political balance of power, changes in the local power holders and authorities of the region, and the already varied set of actors playing roles both at the local and national governments. With these, taken as a whole, it is but constructive and crucial to look at the problem of Muslim Mindanao from different point of views, sides, and perspectives, considering the changes mentioned-above, and should not anymore be solely tied to the timeworn, threadbare, and banal historical rhetoric of the past. This is the only way forward if a lasting solution to the problem of underdevelopment and impoverishment of the region is to be resolved, and if PEACE is to flourish in the Bangsamoro land.

    Speaking of PEACE, I personally believe, and I guess most people will agree with me that, PEACE is decisive in ending human afflictions in conflict and post-conflict zones. I strongly adhere to the idea that PEACE is an important prerequisite for achieving the protection of the fundamental rights of peoples, political and socio-economic stability like overcoming poverty and ensuring progress and development. That is why I agree with the notion that a long –lasting solution to the conflict in Muslim Mindanao has to be crafted and implemented for this will facilitate the commencement of peace in the region, and will shepherd the needed development and human protection to the Moros and to the people of Mindanao as a whole, who are for the most part, the victims of atrocities brought by the conflict.

    However, achieving peace per se is a daunting task. The process of facilitating peace is not an easy trail, though this is not to say that peace is impossible because that is not the case. It’s just that, there is a lot to consider along the process of peace-making and peace-building. Two among the most important considerations are, first, in the case of intra-state conflicts, whatever peace deal or agreement that is crafted as a result of peace negotiations, as much as possible, the sovereign integrity of the state must not be compromised, unless one party to the conflict is really opting for independence from the parent state, in that case, the sovereign integrity of the parent state will indeed be compromised. If this is the case, in most cases, the only way out is a decisive military victory of either one party to the conflict. But then again, this is a costly endeavor. Second, in the process and conduct of peace negotiations, all parties to the conflict, and what I mean here is, all possible stakeholders and players must not only see eye to eye with each other, but must be involved in the whole process of peace negotiations, most especially in coming up with a consensus on all areas and points they need to agree on, given any peace deal or agreement if peace-building is to succeed. In the case of the Philippines, poignant as it is, the above-mentioned considerations toward a successful peace-building are desolately the very shortcomings of the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), BBL being the embodiment of the MILF-GRP peace negotiations. Addressing the flaws of the BBL including the process of its crafting is something crucial and needs recognition from its framers, proponents, and supporters if BBL is to fulfill its promise of being the epitome of a lasting peace and development in Muslim Mindanao.

    Anna Malindog is human rights advocate and also an academic. You may get in touch with her through [email protected]